I have my green card but I need to stay abroad for six months or more, what do I need to do to maintain my green card status in good standing while protecting my path to U.S. Citizenship?
NOTE: This blog is intended solely as a general reference information. It is not legal advice. We recommend you seek legal advice for your situation before relying on any of the information presented here.
To best answer this question, we must first identify some popular wrong option that has been the default rumored solution going around immigrant communities for far too long.
Wrong rumor number 1:
“All you need to do is just keep your foreign trips under six months in length and you are good to go”
Wrong rumor number 2:
“You can stay as long as you want, my relative was out of the US for like 6 years straight without a reentry permit and entered without a problem”
Wrong rumor number 3:
“I have my reentry permit so that means I can stay out for more than six months at a time and still be able to apply for my U.S. Naturalization/Citizenship without a problem”
You may be looking at the above list and wondering what could be wrong. Read what U.S. Citizenship and Immigration’s rules are requiring to better analyze the points addressed below:
Addressing rumor number 1:
There are two aspects immigration officers often look for when evaluating your foreign travel activities as a green card holder:
1. The technical aspect is not to exceed six months (180 days or more) in stay abroad for any given foreign trip and,
2. The intent aspect to see if you are playing around with this technical rule to make it look like you are residing in the U.S. by traveling in pieces WITHOUT A REENTRY PERMIT (example: 179 days here and 90 days there and 85 days here equaling to 354 days abroad in a given year without violating the six months abroad rule). Even as simple as one trip abroad of 180 days or more may be left for the inspecting officer’s discretion to deny you entry for abandoning your green card status in the U.S. should you not have the proper documents with you. If you got away with few extended trips without taking the necessary precaution - this game will pose issues for you upon subsequent entry to the U.S. as well as when it comes time to apply for your U.S. Naturalization. A careful evaluation of your case will help to understand the nature of the travel and what can be done to get you back on track to your immigration goals.
Addressing rumor number 2:
Indeed, a lot of people have ignorantly utilized this option and have returned to the U.S. seemingly without a problem. Here are things to consider:
1. Your relative did this at a time most green cards and passports were not able to be scanned and records were reviewed by the inspecting offer with the naked eye. That is no longer the case, green cards are easily scanned revealing information you cannot control. An empty passport with only one or two stamps may have looked as if that person was behaving leading to an oversight.
2. You are expected to know the rules and follow them so just because an immigration officer did not catch you does not mean you did not overstay abroad.
3. You may think you were lucky to be allowed entry to the U.S. but being lucky by your definition does not mean being legal. USCIS website clearly and plainly advertise that a trip of one year or more abroad continuously means your green card is likely abandoned, so by entering the U.S. without asking for reinstatement called returned resident visa from the U.S. consulate abroad will make your travel and stay in the U.S. possibly an illegal one should you be allowed to enter at all. You just have not been caught yet. You will be entering the realm of “officer’s discretion” on all fronts and reduce your chances to sustain your legal U.S. immigration status.
Addressing rumor number 3:
This is a tricky one. You did well to know you have a legitimate reason to travel without the intent to abandon your U.S. Green Card status. You applied for permission/reentry permit and you did all you can to keep your immigration record clean. So…. what's the problem now?
No one bothered to tell you, that although these steps protect your green card status does not mean your path to U.S. Naturalization is protected completely. If you plan to protect both your green card and your path towards U.S. Naturalization, then it is best that you look over the requirements for each category and coordinate your trips accordingly. Here is a good place to use the number game of traveling in pieces but keeping your travels under six months to your advantage. Example: With an approved and valid reentry permit - you manage to stay 360 days abroad and kept each trip under six months (Trip 1: I80 days, Trip 2: 90 days and Trip 3: 90 days) and avoided the break in continuous residence required to apply for U.S. Naturalization. Read more about Continuous Resident requirement for Naturalization
So let us review
1. You applied for reentry permit before your expected extended trip abraod to stay out for six months or more
2. You have been approved for reentry permit and you have kept all your travels under six months in length for each trip
Is this it? Not just yet! It does not stop here. What else should you watch out for if you are trying to manage your abraod travels to not violate your green card status and still protect your path towards U.S. Naturalization?
Now you need to make sure that you have your Physical Presence requirement for Naturalization met:
· Example: If you are applying for your U.S. naturalization through holding a Permanent Resident Status for five years or more, the basic rule states that you should show physical presence in the U.S. for at least half the time of the most recent five years you have been under Permanent Resident status. As always there are exception to this rule such as if are a religious worker, you have been employed by the U.S. government and many other exceptions that may apply to your case.
Other popular paths to U.S. Naturalization include:
· Green card holders married to U.S. citizens
· Green card holders in the military and their family
· Citizenship through parents
USCIS.gov is a black hole of forms, instructions, requirements and more. Don’t let this intimidate you away from taking the time to inform yourself. Here is where you can access a comprehensive guide to see if you are positioned to apply for your U.S. Naturalization and how to go about it:
We covered a lot here, the point of this blog is to equip you on how to search the facts for yourself. By being aware of what you should watch out for as a green card holder traveling abroad, you will gain some advantage on how to wheel yourself to your immigration destination. Immigration is a journey not a fragmented stage you pass and wait for the next stage to come by. The journey must be protected with your end goal in mind. Ignorance is ranked very high on the list for what kills your immigration goals. Everything is straightforward until it is not. To maximize the help of an immigration professional or attorney you must be engaged and fully aware of your part in maintaining a clean immigration record. We only covered, here today, a small part of how to maintain your green card status and protect your path towards U.S. Naturalization/Citizenship in looking at aspects of foreign travel. Stay tuned as we cover more on this topic. Remember, your biggest advocate is yourself, stay informed!